My dogs health

Understand the Meaning of Your Dog's Body Language

Reading your dog's body language

One of the reasons dogs make such good pets is their ability to communicate with us. In fact, they are often better at understanding us than we are at reading their body language. But if you can tune into your dog’s posture, ears, mouth, fur, and tail, you should be able to understand its emotions.

Why is it important to understand a dog’s body language?

Dogs cannot speak like humans, but they have their own language in which they communicate with us. They do not use words as we do, and hence, it can be tough to identify their messages at first. But with time, we can learn to read their signals and identify their gestures and sounds the way they learn our words and commands.

It is important to read a dog’s body language to understand what they wish to convey. Their gestures and sounds can indicate their pain, distress, warnings, anger, and a lot more. Even their facial expressions convey these messages. Once you begin understanding your dog’s body language and its meaning, you can identify if your dog is scared or nervous about certain things. You can then prevent those occurrences or at least take your dog to a safer place. You might also be able to identify your dog’s anger and prevent them from snapping at someone.

How can it impact the bonding between you and your dog?

Communication is the biggest factor that can strengthen the bond between two living individuals. Once you start understanding what someone is conveying to you, you begin developing a bond with them. The same stands true for the bond between a dog and their caretaker. Just like you feel happy when your dog understands commands, or their name is being called out, your dog also feels happy when you begin understanding them. As soon as you begin reading and understanding canine body language and their emotional state, they develop a deeper bond of trust and respect with you.

Types of dog language and communication

Canine communication mostly consists of vocal and physical communication. Their vocal communication can be barking, whimpering, growling, snarling, etc. And their physical communication can be either body language and posture or actions. However, it has been observed that dogs rely on communicating via body language more than vocal communication. You might be familiar with some of the most common canine body language and vocal signals like barking, whining, tail-wagging, and licking.

However, all these actions can have multiple meanings and not just the one we perceive. Let us take a deeper look at what dogs’ body languages mean, along with their vocal signals.

  1. Physical communication through tail, mouth, and fur

Most canines’ body language and physical communication will be indicated by their tail. If your dog has held its tail high and is wagging it rapidly, it is feeling excited. If the tail is straight out and your pooch is wagging it slowly, it is feeling nervous. When dogs are alert, their tails will be upright, and if they are feeling scared, they will tuck their tails between their legs. If their tail is relaxed, you can assume, so are they.

In the case of the dogs’ fur, if they are calm, their fur will also be relaxed and smooth. And if the dogs are feeling scared or upset, their fur will be raised.

In the case of their mouth, if they are relaxed, their mouth will either be relaxed or be slightly open, with the tongue hanging out. If they are licking themselves or flicking their tongue, they might be feeling uneasy. And if their lip is curled and teeth are exposed, they might be showing aggression.

  1. Physical communication through eyes and ears

Like their tails, dogs also communicate a lot with their ears. If they are feeling calm, you will see that their ears are in a relaxed position that feels natural to them. If you see their ears are erect, then the dogs are alert or feeling aggressive. And if their ears are pulled back and flat on their head, they are feeling scared or stressed.

Your dog’s eyes too can tell you a lot about their mood and emotions. When they are relaxed or calm, you will be able to tell by their calm expressions. And if you notice a dog directly staring at you, know that it might want to assert dominance. Also, if you notice their pupils are dilated, they are feeling aggressive. If your dog turns away from you, it is a sign that they may be unhappy.

  1. Vocal communication

Vocal communication for dogs is barking, growling, whining, or howling. When your dogs are barking, they are trying to express themselves loudly. Their barking is not necessarily for anger or alertness. Dogs also bark to express too much excitement or happiness. If their barking is continuous and fast-paced, it is a sign of alertness or warning. Your dog may also express their excitement or happiness with a high-pitched bark, but it won’t be continuous and fast-paced. If a dog growls or gives off a deep bark, it is a warning to not approach them.

A whine or yelp is dogs’ way of crying or calling for help. They may also whine if they are not getting enough attention. Their body language during whining may also indicate their needs. Howling is their way of trying to communicate with other dogs, who may be at a distance.

Dogs’ body language in various situations

Here are some more points to further understand dogs’ body language and their meanings according to various situations:

  • Relaxed

Dog Body Language in Relaxed Position

When a dog is relaxed, the tail will be in a relaxed position, and its ears will not be front facing.

  • Alert

Dog Body Language in Alert Position

When a dog is alert, it may stand upright with the tail sticking out in a horizontal position with its ears facing frontwards.

  • Aggressive

Aggressive Dog Body Language

When a dog is feeling aggressive, its tail and ears may become upright, legs stiffened, and lips curled in a snarling manner.

  • Fearful (aggressive and worried)

Fearful and Worried Dog

If a dog is aggressive while being fearful, its fur will be raised, tail tucked between the legs, and ears pulled flat backwards. It may also snarl.

If a dog is worriedly fearful, its tail may hang down and may wag a little, whereas ears will still be pulled backwards. Moreover, it may also call for help with a raised paw.

  • Stressed

Stressed Dog

When a dog is stressed, its tail will be lowered, ears pulled backwards, and body may be lowered. A stressed dog may also show signs like panting.

  • Playfulness

Playful Dog Body Language

To show playfulness, a dog will wag its tail rapidly while keeping it in an upward direction. It might also stick the tongue out as if smiling.

Some examples when dog is communicating

Lopsided grin: “Let’s be friends!”
Lips drawn back to expose teeth: “Don’t come any closer!”
As above, with a growl: “I’m warning you!”

Ears pricked up: “What’s up?”
Ears held back or flattened: “Help, I’m not sure about this.”

Eyes narrowed: “Isn’t life great!” or “I’m just a little pup, please be nice!”
Eyes wide open: “Just let me at that postman/cat/squirrel/rubber chicken!”

Front paw raised: “Let’s play!”

Quick bow, plus barking: “Play with me now!”
Bounding around you or another dog: “Let’s chase!”

Bristling appearance - ears, tail and hackles all up: “I’m top dog!”
As above, plus wags tail slowly and growls: “And don’t you forget it!”

Crouching, tail held low and wagging exaggeratedly: “You’re the boss!”
As above, with licking: “I’m your loyal best friend!”
Rolling over onto back: “My fate is in your hands!”

Tail wagging freely: “I’m happy! Let’s be friends!”
Tail wagging horizontally, slowly, and stiffly: “Watch out, I might bite!”
Tail clamped low over hindquarters: “I’m frightened!”
Tail wagging while hanging down: “I’m sorry!”

(Some breeds, like Whippets and the Greyhounds, naturally carry their tail in the clamped-down position. But generally, a tail held at higher than 45 degrees to the spine shows interest and alertness.)

Frequently asked questions on dog’s body language

Why do dogs lick you?

Your dog licks you for either of the two reasons:

  • It is their way of showing you love and affection. When they lick you, it also makes them feel good as it is their natural way of seeking comfort.
  • They are asking for attention. Dogs may also lick you if they want you to pet them or play with them.

Why does my dog stare at me?

What does it mean if a dog lets you rub its belly?

How do you tell if your dog loves you?

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